First, the good health news about your darker Asian or Mediterranean skin: Your quick-tanning skin gives you automatic SPF-4 sun protection, somewhat lowering your skin-cancer risk. The bad tidings are that you have an increased risk, too — for brown patches that can give you a sporadic complexion.
Where skin cancer and complexion are both concerned, you shouldn't be passive and let fate take its course. You can up your odds of staying cancer- and brown patch-free by following the best home skin-care routine. Here we list the sensitive-skin "dos" and "don'ts" that dermatologists swear by:
- Do... cleanse your face once a day, or more often for oily skin. Choose a cleanser that's designed for your skin type. For oily skin, look for more detergent to strip away the surface oils; for dry, sensitive skin, choose a moisturizing cleanser.
- Don't... use scented products for sensitive skin. A product isn't truly natural just because it's herbal. "We don't want that kind of natural, i.e., herbal or floral," warns dermatologist Wendy E. Roberts, M.D., medical director at Desert Dermatology Medical Associates in Rancho Mirage, Calif., who calls these products "horrible" for the way they can damage fragile skin.
- Do... use a moisturizer if you have dry skin. Smooth it on as many as two or three times a day if you need it. Perhaps you prefer a rich cream or lotion for fall and winter, and a lighter version for spring and summer.
- Don't... choose a moisturizer with any drying or pore-clogging ingredients. Avoid vitamin A or retinol for their drying properties, and Vaseline-type greasy products for their acne-promoting potential.
- Do... wear sunscreen for a double-edged protective effect. An SPF 15 to 30 applied every day (or much more often with concentrated sun exposure) can block the sun's cancer-causing — and wrinkle-promoting — rays, and allow any dark-spot discolorations to clear (the sun will otherwise work to further activate those dark-spot pigment cells).
- Don't... mistakenly assume that your darker skin is a guarantee against skin cancer. Your natural SPF 4 is a start, but, laments dermatologist Roberts, "I've seen many cases of people with darker skin who have had skin cancer ... too many to count."
- Do... see a dermatologist if you have problem skin. The earlier you seek professional help, the more reversible a problem might be, points out New York City dermatologist Fran Cook-Bolden, M.D., director of the Ethnic Skin Specialty Group and author of Beautiful Skin of Color, expected to be made available this fall by HarperCollins Publishing.
- Don't... use an over-the-counter product that aggravates your sensitive skin. A benzoyl peroxide-containing acne treatment, for example, might do wonders for your white best friend's acne, but might injure your skin and result in unsightly brown spots.
- Do... seek out an ethnic-skin expert if you're considering cosmetic surgery. Otherwise you're risking a dermatologic disaster — your skin could react very differently from lighter skin.
- Don't... assume a doctor who got fabulous results for others will have the experience you're looking for. "You might not be able to walk in to the same doctor's office and have the identical results that your Irish, Celtic-skin-type friend had," Roberts points out.
Finally, don't think that your skin's hue will tell all about your background. If your skin looks light, but you have some Middle Eastern or Asian ancestry, let your dermatologist know so he or she can determine the best-bet treatment for your skin type.